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  • Regina Reichstein (writer); Éliane Rochelet (editor)

Terms for the Times

Well, 2021--here we are. We had such high hopes for you! There’s still many months to go with our winter semester halfway done, but the COVID-19 lockdowns began almost a year ago, and wow, the world has really changed. Most days, it feels like we are fist fighting some Pixar-style, monster-like manifestation of our own nightmares, and that’s probably how things will continue to be for a while. Social psychology concepts can help guide our understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we believe each term needs some coronavirus-themed revisions to fit the bizarre spirit of these times.

Social loafing

This social process occurs when each participant of a group puts reduced effort into the group project, leading to lower rates of productivity than would have been accomplished if everyone had worked alone (Gilovich, Keltner, Chen, & Nisbett, 2019). Obviously, the era of COVID-19 has altered the foundations of many facets of society, and now, this lovely social psychology term, “social loafing,” hereby refers to that one month-and-a-half where we all tried (and failed) to make bread. Food trends look easy on TikTok, but alas for most of us our dough lays flat, our yeast starters have died, and we have been purchasing our sourdough from supermarkets ever since.


Back in the “Before-Times,” cultural norms were very different than they are today. Let’s have a nostalgic moment here -- remember when it was essentially considered mandatory to shake hands with new professional contacts? When it was common to hug your friends? When it was possible to start dating someone without wrapping yourself in cellophane and showering in hand sanitizer? Norms have shifted so much since the onset of lockdown that it is now considered rude to physically approach people within six feet of distance, it is encouraged to hole up for days over the mildest of coughs, and it is totally acceptable to cross the street to avoid encountering strangers! Under the intense pressures of public health, many previous norms about social etiquette have been totally inverted -- and don’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Personal space

Personal space is the bubble of air between you and others, which is an expectation that we all are entitled to hold. It is one of the first forms of respect for others that children are taught at a young age. Although it has always been an important component of our interactions with others, maintaining appropriate personal space between ourselves and others is currently a salient issue of personal and communal safety. It is probably the social psychology term that strikes most accurately at the state of the world right now, and we must all be careful to avoid popping others’ personal space bubbles.


The foot-in-the-door technique normally refers to the utility of making a small demand in order to eventually make a larger one (Gilovich et al., 2019). It is a persuasive strategy that is helpful to land deals and make requests, but let’s be clear--literally placing your foot in the doors of others’ apartments is highly inadvisable at the moment. Although we may miss receiving Amazon packages in the doorway, grabbing today’s order from UberEats, or inviting a friend in for tea, it is best to avoid indoor contact with others whenever possible. Instead, we should spend all our time growing plants, crocheting, and building up our personal collections of shoes to wear when we can safely place our feet “back-in-the-door”!

Farewell, lovely readers, and may you enjoy your personal space bubbles :)


Gilovich, T., Keltner, D., Chen, S., & Nisbett R.E. (2019). Social psychology: Fifth edition. W.W. Norton & Company.

Photo credit

Serdarevic, D., for United Nations (n.d.). Stay home safe for world [Digital drawing]. Unsplash.

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